Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Culture Shock

During my time travelling, especially here in Asia, I've grown used to seeing poverty, filthy cities, litter everywhere, open sewers, buying food from stree-sellers, dodgy sanitary conditions and the prospect of showers only once a fortnight. Which is why Beirut has been such a culture shock to me. As you descend down the steep slopes of the Mount Lebanon range you see the metropolis spread below, nestled in a bay on the eastern Mediterranean and you imagine it could be a city on the French or Italian Riviera. As you get closer the impression is reinforced by the sleek cars, luxury apartments, broad, uncluttered pavements and outlets of large Western shops. Walking around the immaculately restored downtown area I almost thought the past two years were but a dream: Starbucks, Armani, Virgin Megastore, and many more. Browsing amongst the trendy youngsters, sporting the latest trendy clothing (well, I'm assuming they're the latest trends, though not having been home I can't be sure), sipping lattes and listening to hip-hop the only indication of being in the Middle East, apart from the increased presence of security forces, was the fact that with your coffee you could also get a nargileh (water pipe).

The calm image of peace was shattered today with the assassination of a prominent anti-Syrian politician. I wasn't in Beirut when it happened, but coming back by bus the streets were unusually jammed and the centre was cordonned off, in places with burning fires, and people were gathering in the streets waving flags and chanting (though in a peaceful and responsible manner). Hopefully this will not herald anything worse for this country that has already suffered too much.

1 comment:

Erika Bird said...

Hi Erik
I thought about you today when i saw the news,not so great timing! I hope you still manage to enjoy Lebanon, it is such and interesting place. Say hi to Zaher, if you are staying at Talaal's New Hostel, Charles Helou Avenue. If you'er not there you should check it out we were there last Christams. WE are in Amritsar.
bye Love Erika